Remember Representative Fresen, whose sister Magdalena Fresen is Vice President of Academica, Florida’s largest for-profit charter management company? He term limited out of the legislature this year. His next step is to go to jail?
Ethics Florida Style: Go Directly to Jail
The buzz about Florida is that there is more self-interest than public interest than in any other state. Are such allegations warranted? Information is not difficult to find. The Center for Public Integrity ranked states on a corruption index in 2012. Florida was rated an ‘F’ on ethics enforcement agencies. It appears there are rules that are easy to bend and break.
Take the case of former Florida House Representative Erik Fresen who served in the House for eight years. It looks like he will serve in a Florida prison next year. He was Chair of the House Education sub-committee on Appropriations, and a former property consultant for Civica, a real estate company with ties to Academica. Fresen’s sister and brother-in-law operate Academica, the largest for-profit charter management firm in Florida. Their charter school real estate holdings generate over $20 million per year.
Fresen pled guilty this week for failure to file federal income taxes for eight years. During the same period, his House financial record disclosures do not match the IRS income reports. This is simply a culmination of years of questions about Fresen’s ethical behavior. For example:
- In 2003, he failed to file a financial disclosure form and was cited in 2013 for non payment of the fee.
- In 2009, he paid a $10,000 fine for failure to report campaign reports.
- In 2011, an ethics complaint was filed in 2011 because of a voting conflict on a bill benefitting charter school building and zoning requirements. The complaint was dismissed by the House attorney, George Levesque. He is married to Patricia Levesque who is the C.E.O. of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education that promotes school choice nationwide.
- In 2012, the Ethics Commission found that from 2008 to 2011 Fresen failed to properly disclose his net worth assets and liabilities.
- In 2012, Fresen was criticized for his last minute amendment to protect private tutoring companies including one owned by Academica. Then in 2013, he was embarrassed by the exposed tutoring fraud.
- In 2014, Fresen reported large annual income amounts from his business, Neighborhood Strategies, since the State had closed it in 2009.
- In 2014, he was named as part of a federal investigation of Academica. Academica made a $400,000 ‘loan’ from Doral Academy to Doral College, a non accredited college started on the grounds of Doral Academy charter high school. High school students were dual enrolled in the college that had no other students. They were taught by their charter high school teachers. (The “College” was run by two other Florida legislators.)
This year, House Speaker Corcoran made a promise to improve ethics. Curbing profiteering in charters is not among his priorities, however. Bills from the Senate do not make it out of House committees. Bits and pieces are assembled as strike all amendments that go to conference committee where no public input is allowed. At the end, The Senate President, Joe Negron got his reservoir in South Florida and sold the public schools to do it. A major charter expansion is planned.